A Weekend in Gwangju

IT SEEMS EVERY CITY in Korea has a ‘thing’—Pyongchang has skiing, Danyang has caves, Chongdo has bullfighting. City tourism officials tend to take these ‘things’ and clutch onto them with a vice grip; one sees billboards for the tea fields as soon as one enters Boseong, for example, or can’t help but be struck by the number of whale statues around Ulsan. Gwangju’s ‘thing’ is democracy—probably a nobler ‘thing’ than whales or tea—and no matter where you are in the city, they don’t let you forget it.

And then there are the trees. My god, the trees! Gwangju’s streets are lined with them. There’s even a really gorgeous river running horizontally through basically the whole city, and it’s kind of like Busan’s Oncheonjang River, except that it’s much wider, not hideously brown and met on the sides with wide swaths of stone, grass, plants and a comfortable biking/running path.

Check out the full guide on Busan Awesome. 

A WEEKEND IN SOUTHERN GANGWON-DO

THERE IS NO PARTICULAR reason that Korea’s rural northeast is often overlooked. Rather, there are several small reasons: it’s out of the way from any significant city, the bullet train doesn’t run there, winter brings heavier snowfalls than it does most the rest of the country, and it’s not proximally close to either China or Japan, which could historically account for its underdevelopment. It’s the sort of area one would probably read a book through on a bus ride, though if you glanced out the window you’d notice mostly flat, traditional Korean roofs hovering over a sea of cabbage farms and some of the best mountain views in the country, widely unobscured by condominiums.

Gangwon-do’s southern half is rough and beautiful, like a female bodybuilder; you’re frightened by her toughness, but equally attracted by the challenge.

Read the rest at Busan Awesome, as part of their ongoing series of weekend getaways outside of the city.

NOTES ON RUNNING MY FIRST 10K, BOTH IN KOREA AND EVER

IN ANTICIPATION OF Busan’s upcoming 5k/10k/half-marathon race near Bexco on March 25 (application deadline Mar. 9; no English website; roughly 30,000 won), some friends and I traveled north to Ulsan on March 1, Korean Independence Day, at the too-early hour of 7 a.m. for an early Spring taste of what running is like in South Korea.

“By the finish line, the sun had well since risen over the leafless trees on the surrounding mountains, and we each received a gold medal, a water bottle, a stale-but-delicious red bean paste bun, and a small box of soy milk before braving the changerooms, which were really just tents filled with naked Korean men deodorizing themselves in the chilly winter air.”

I hadn’t initially intended to write anything about this race, but it’s literally gotten to the point where I genuinely and arrogantly believe anything I do that offers any unique experience can and must be shared with my fellow expats. And no one can stop me.